Mike Gretzinger of Thorold is an inspiration — not only to the hundreds of students he teaches every year, but to anyone who happens to cross his path.
The simple act of tying boots can be a chore for 50-year old Mike Gretzinger. The struggle began 13-years ago, when he started having trouble with his legs. “They were getting weak, hard to move them and stuff like that. I just thought it was from sitting in a chair playing on the computer. And then it kind of progressed and noticed my arm wasn’t moving on the left side. And it kind of kept going from there.”
Seven doctors and 5 years later he was diagnosed with parkinson’s disease.
“Everyday you don’t know what to expect. There are days I wake up in the morning and feel like a block of cement. Or days that I’ll just be moving all over the place. And it can change throughout the day. I’ll be having a great day and then crash.”
He has to depend on others — his hands often fail him. Though he seems capable here wielding a knife, this action will be short lived. Parkinson’s claimed his profession as a chef.
“You need both hands. You’re on a line and stuff is really busy and you want to know where your fingers are when you’re using a knife etc. Eventually it was just too much.”
Fortunately, Mike created a new opportunity. He went back to school, and now teaches culinary arts with the Niagara Catholic School Board. Fiercely proud of his students, they collectively do community work. Among their projects, the annual Salvation Army holiday dinner for 800. “Working with the students seeing them do stuff it’s kind of exciting. It makes me want to get our there and do something which is really important. You don’t want to sit home and kind of dwell on it.”
He keeps active hiking with his dogs, Bully and Chase. But this summer he’s tackling a major adventure. A cycling trip from Calgary to Vancouver. “I find it easer to get around on my bike. A lot of people with parkinson’s, it is easier for them to bike than to walk.”
And this trip isn’t just an experience. It’s a campaign to raise awareness of parkinson’s disease. “It’s not just about shaking. There’s a whole lot more to it. It effects all different parts of your life, body etc. Family. It effects a lot of things people don’t think about.”
A fundraiser to help cover expenses for Mike’s cycling adventure is underway. However, donations can be made online. And until March 4th, people can participate in a unique funding initiative — a virtual chili con carne night. Details can be found on Mike’s indiegogo page, Facebook and Twitter.